This was a discussion between Kibby McMahon and M. Zachary Rosenthal who wrote on applying contextualism to the science of recognizing other people’s emotions, and evolutionists Lynn E. O’Connor and Jack W. Berry who focused on the social and contextual nature of emotion. After summarizing their chapters, the broad similarity was fairly evident, but in part, because of that, the discussion was able to focus dig into a more nuanced examination of basic issues.

The discussion included a wide-ranging examination of what is meant by emotion, how felt emotion overlaps with expressed emotion and its social functions, and the impact of empathy and reading the emotions of others. The context-dependent nature of emotion was emphasized by both teams. Lynn and Kirby emphasized how emotion is a “package” of biological, social, and psychological components. The role of awareness was examined and both teams agreed that emotions can occur with or without conscious knowledge .. but an argument was made that some degree of universality seems likely if an evolutionary perspective is taken since they evolved in part to solve problems linked to survival. A distinction was made between the capacity to feel and recognize emotions and the ways they are communicated or described.

Eventually, the discussion turned to the applied implication of these issues. Zach argued that practitioners need to be focused more on their own empathy and understanding and less on the literal truth of any given emotional interpretation. Lynn spoke of the importance of teaching clients to take a more contextual approach to their own emotional life – notice when things changed or what the person then did. Kibby talked about the importance of client self-validation – realizing that their own emotions made sense in certain contexts.